Nov 15

What does it mean to lose a World Series?

Dodger Stadium, minutes after the end of Game 7 of the 2017 World Series

Dodger Stadium, minutes after the end of Game 7 of the 2017 World Series

Every baseball season compounds pleasure and pain with intensity. In that chemistry, all that changes is the mix. What – the older among us had to be reminded, the younger had to learn for the first time – would playing in the World Series make different?

We could imagine easily enough the euphoria of ultimate victory, and we could wonder if defeat would cause depression or devastation. But passing through that window, how would it feel? Keep in mind: It had been 29 years since the Dodgers had won a World Series, but it had been 39 years since they had lost one.

Let’s pause and remember, for a moment, how we got here. The record-setting run to the best record in baseball, cozying up to the greatest mark of all time, legitimately raising the question of whether this would be the best team ever if it won the World Series, if if if, before a 17-day impersonation of Job caused us to question the true nature of baseball good and evil. A smidgen of run-of-the-mill stability led us into the fresh thrills of the postseason.

Remember that just beating Arizona in the National League Division Series, let alone sweeping the Diamondbacks, was an achievement – many thought the first landmine would be more than sufficient to waste the Dodgers. Then Chicago, 12 months earlier a Waterloo, transformed into a wonderland. Justin Turner hit a glorious walk-off homer on the anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s. Three games later, Kiké Hernández, a semi-regular as famous in baseball for his banana costume as anything else, knocked three home runs in a single evening, and suddenly, the nearly holy grail found its way into our grasp, a demon-exorcising National League pennant, birthing our ride into the mystical land.

The unknown awaited.

Speaking for myself, little was more terrifying for Game 1 of the 2017 World Series than the drive there, bounded by my oldest son’s 3:15 p.m. release from school and the 5:09 p.m. Dodger Stadium first pitch, with 14 miles of the densest daytime Los Angeles traffic teeming in between, all of it in the 105-degree asphalt jungle that wilted the air conditioning in our 2006 Honda Odyssey. Barely was there any time between our arrival in our seats and Clayton Kershaw’s initial strike for me to focus entirely on the stress between the baselines, and with the underdog’s underdog, Chris Taylor, homering on the first pitch thrown to a Dodger World Series batter since Alfredo Griffin grounded to third in the ninth inning of Game 5 in 1988, joy took hold before tension had a chance to lay down a finger. Houston tied the game but never led, Turner hit his then-usual postseason home run, the Dodger bullpen followed its blueprint, and just like that, a 3-1 Game 1 triumph. No Gibson, no problem. Less than an hour after witnessing the final pitch from the Reserved Level, even with our car parked at the opposite end of Chavez Ravine far beyond center field, my family was home, safely, victoriously.

With Game 2, whose schizophrenic late-inning craziness needs little elaboration from me, the true experience of the 2017 World Series really began. There’s a moment in Hamilton when Thomas Jefferson comes to understand the incomprehensible reality behind a sordid scandal involving Alexander and says, softly thunderstruck, My God. As I watched Game 2 and the next four on television, those words reverberated in near non-stop echo.

All the home runs and the comebacks complete and incomplete in Game 2: My God.

Yu Darvish’s meltdown to start Game 3: My God. 

The chest-knotting tie in Game 4, unbroken until the five-run Dodger ninth: My God. 

And Game 5, the game of 4-0, 4-4, 7-4, 7-7, 8-7, 8-11, 9-11, 9-12, 12-12, 12-13 – Why do you hit like you’re running out of time? – the game in which a future first-ballot Hall of Famer stood three competent innings from sealing his postseason legacy, the game in which a 2017 Dodger team could have practically assured its place in Nirvana?

My God, and then some. Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints, sings Hamilton’s complicated frenemy, Aaron Burr. It takes and it takes and it takes.

Typically, after a Dodger loss, I stew a very short time. I always believe in tomorrow. Even after Game 2, which anyone could reasonably say was a disastrous loss, my disappointment was quickly supplanted by my awe at the insanity. But Game 5 left me in a fog that shrouded and confused me beyond what I can recall feeling before.

Game 5 buried me. My hopes lay in reincarnation.

For Game 6, I was back in my car, though not on the way to Dodger Stadium. I spent the early and middle innings driving through Halloween night rush hour in Los Angeles to retrieve my daughter from her late rehearsal for the school musical and bring her home. It was with me in transit that the Dodgers withstood an enormous threat from the Astros in the top of the fifth and then rallied in the bottom of the sixth, and I exulted so quietly, with the tiniest of fist pumps, because Young Miss Weisman, now 15 years old, is at the place where she finds my devotion to this sport unnerving almost to the point of embarrassment. But home for the final two innings, I saw Joc Pederson’s homer, I savored Kenley Jansen’s domination, and as the clock neared midnight on October, I began preparing for Game 7.

For my first November baseball game, we didn’t mess around. More than an hour before the game began, I was in my seat with a hot dog. Time to take in the atmosphere and share it through Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and e-mail. It’s really the atmosphere, after all, that draws you to the game, the desire to play a part, however small in the chorus, because not even the best seats get you as close as the television.

In fact, when the game began, what I had sacrificed in favor of that atmosphere was quickly apparent. Our seats far, far down the right-field line put us in a realm filled with hope but miles from the action, and with slow-signaling home-plate umpire Mark Wegner making his strike calls on the backbeat, it seemed as if news of the game was coming by telegraph. A white sphere landed in a far-away field before we had barely inhaled the game’s first scent, and it was a double for George Springer. An Alex Bregman grounder went wide, wide of first base, Cody Bellinger threw off-balance, and like a newsreel of the war, we learned the casualty of a 1-0 Houston lead. Bregman then ran away from us, stealing third base, and then just as quickly scored on another grounder to Bellinger.

In a World Series like this one, I was quick to despair but slow to lose hope, especially when Houston starter Lance McCullers Jr. allowed a leadoff double by Taylor and then began hitting nearly every other Dodger batter with a pitch. Two outs into the bottom of the first, the bases were loaded for Pederson, the afterthought when the postseason began who was now one hit from going toe-to-toe with Springer for potential World Series MVP honors.

Pederson hit the ball sharply but indiscreetly, into an inning-ending forceout. Forlornly, Los Angeles took the field behind Darvish to start the top of the second, and the third run of the game scored in slow motion, Brian McCann plodding home from third base on a wet newspaper slap from McCullers that sent the ball drifting with infernal apathy toward Dodger second baseman Logan Forsythe.

Do people remember that the Springer home run that destroyed Darvish and made the score 5-0 came on a 3-2 pitch. I’ll not soon forget the fear as Springer came up to the plate with the entire season at risk, but the first five pitches Darvish threw in that at-bat took no foothold in my mind. All was obliterated by the punishment Springer laid out on the last.

Before Game 7 began, I fully understood the case for starting Kershaw and didn’t particularly disagree with it, but nor have I ever second-guessed the decision to open the game with Darvish, who after all had successful outings in the two previous playoff rounds. As bad as Darvish looked in Game 3, it struck me as aberrative. It didn’t make sense to assume he would do worse on four days’ rest than Kershaw on two days’ rest — and since Kershaw wasn’t going to go the distance in any circumstance, why not use the experience he had picked up coming out of the bullpen in the 2016 NLCS to your advantage?

Instead, the choice will be remarked upon for years. Nearly 40 years after the last big elimination-game controversy involving a Dodger starting pitcher, Darvish became a Dave Goltz for a new era, the outsider who usurped the spotlight moment from the homegrown prodigy and pratfalled, even if Darvish was dimensionally more talented than Goltz, even if people always forget that for Fernando Valenzuela to have started the NL West tiebreaker at the end of the 1980 season, he would have been pitching on zero days’ rest.

The game still was not over. It couldn’t be, right? Not in a Series as magnificent as this one, not without Rocky landing one more flurry of punches on Apollo. In the bottom of the second, Taylor came to the plate with two runners on against the wobbly McCullers. Taylor lined the first pitch 96 mph, but as with Pederson’s 97 mph grounder in the first, it found nothing but glove. Two hard-hit balls by the Dodgers with five baserunners on, and zero to show for it.

The sad march continued. In the third inning, after a Corey Seager leadoff single, Turner was hit by a pitch for the second time — the fourth HBP of the game by McCullers. The last time a pitcher hit four batters in a game at Dodger Stadium, Orel Hershiser was discovering that his career was over. But again, no one scored.

Wounded, the crowd kept swaying, kept stomping, but the dominoes kept falling, falling faster, crashing one atop another, the tumbling interrupted only by an RBI single by 12-year Dodger veteran Andre Ethier in what many understood to be his last at-bat in baseball’s most beautiful uniform. Unlike the cyclonic Game 5, Dodger fans stood face to face with a steady wall of doom for hours before Game 7 ended.

Ethier was the final Dodger baserunner of 2017. The remaining 11 batters all made outs. The last, a grounder to second by Seager, brought a silence to Dodger Stadium unlike anything I have ever experienced at the conclusion of a major-league baseball game. Had the victors been the ALCS finalist Yankees instead of the Astros, no doubt thousands of chest-thumping Bronx Bomber fans would have taken over Chavez Ravine with their whoops. But with Houston represented so sparsely in the stands, I swear I could hear the cheers of the Astro players cut through the quiet as they swarmed the field to celebrate in the ballpark they had turned into a morgue.

IMG_9344It takes so much out of you, a baseball season, never more so than during a World Series run. If you didn’t know it before, you know it now. What does it mean to lose a World Series? It means you don’t take that exhaustion anywhere except home. You toss it in the trash if you choose. Or, you own it, and you take pride in it, you treasure it, even if it is nothing like joy, nothing like euphoria, nothing like pounding your chest and shouting to the heavens.

You think about coming so close, and your breath draws heavy and sad.

Come the next breath, you are stronger.

And we keep living anyway. We rise and we fall and we break and we make our mistakes and if there’s a reason I’m still alive when so many have died, then I’m willing to wait for it.

Oct 28

The Dodger bullpen is not overworked

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 8.45.04 AM

See the bullpen usage chart above? There is one number in bold. That — the 42 pitches thrown by Kenta Maeda in emergency relief of Yu Darvish during the 5-3, Game 3 loss to Houston, represents the only pitch count that any Dodger reliever has had in the World Series preventing him from pitching in the next game.

The only one. It’s not irrelevant — Maeda has been phenomenal in the playoffs, pitching exactly nine innings and allowing no runs, two singles and a walk with nine strikeouts. Nevertheless, Maeda being extended to 2 2/3 innings Friday represents literally the only moment any of the 12 Dodger pitchers has been asked to go beyond his assigned role.

Kenley Jansen? No. The Dodgers spent the entire season preparing him for longer outings. Throwing 43 pitches in two days after being rested for 120 hours is not overwork. For that matter, the game-tying home run he allowed in the ninth inning of Game 2 came 16 pitches into his outing — there is no way to argue workload was the cause.

The Dodger bullpen is not overworked. It had four days off entering the World Series, a fact everyone talked about before Game 1 but seemed to forget less than 48 hours later. The bullpen wasn’t overworked going into Game 3, even with Rich Hill being pulled after four innings, and with one exception, it isn’t overworked now. If anything, one could argue that the foibles of Ross Stripling, Josh Fields and Brandon McCarthy are the result of underwork. I’m not making that argument, but I’ll listen to it.

Heading into Game 4, the Dodger bullpen is overworked only in the sense that any bullpen would be overworked following a disaster start by an otherwise talented pitcher. And frankly, the fact that only one pitcher is shelved for tonight’s Game 4 is a positive, not a negative, especially when mitigated by Jansen backing into an extra day of rest.

No doubt, there will be some pitchers unavailable for Game 5, but that is always a likelihood when you play three games in a row. Again, Game 2 will have had nothing to do with that. Maeda and Morrow were destined to pitch in Game 2, no matter the inning. And Maeda was used in a situation designed to maximize his effectiveness and efficiency.

There was no domino effect to the workload of the pitching staff from Rich Hill’s early exit in Game 2. None. Every pitcher was primed for Game 3. If Dave Roberts and Rick Honeycutt made any mistake managing the staff, the biggest one would be not recognizing sooner that Darvish was hopeless in Game 3, not taking the same strategy that brought Maeda into Game 2 for Hill and employing it as soon as the Astro lineup turned over, and George Springer came up with two runners on and the Dodgers already trailing, 3-0.

But even then, it ain’t easy to bail out on a starting pitcher after nine batters, and perhaps more importantly, Maeda doesn’t warm up with the snap of your fingers.

I don’t really want to relitigate Game 2, but since many continue to claim the pitching management in that game was as ill-fated as The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeifferlet me put down for the record that it’s aggressive use of the bullpen that got the Dodgers this far, and any situation where the game is handed to Brandon Morrow and Jansen with a 3-1 lead and no more than nine outs to go is a great one for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

That there was one baserunner when Morrow entered the game is a factor, but one that also serves to make the case of why Roberts pulled Hill in the first place. So many people are angry as if Hill was throwing a perfect game, as he has been wont to do. He wasn’t. Yes, he struck out seven, but he also allowed six baserunners (one on an intentional walk) in four innings. He was victimized by a poor fielding play by Chase Utley, but a pitcher who is “dealing” gets around that. Instead, Hill came within Chris Taylor’s hat brim of being down by at least two or quite possibly three runs before getting his seventh out of the game.

Sure, Hill might have pitched a perfect fifth inning, and in my heart I would have liked to have seen that. But if we’re going to bet on “might have,” I’ll bet on Jansen shutting down the bottom of the Astros lineup in his second inning of the night over Hill shutting down the top of the Astros lineup in his fifth. Anyone who is upset that Morrow and Jansen weren’t brought in to start clean innings is on thin ice arguing that Roberts should have waited until Hill was in trouble before brining in Maeda.

More of a concern than the Dodger pitching staff is the offense, which hasn’t been entirely absent — no fewer than three runs in any game, with clutch hitting in Game 1, comeback city in Game 2, the tying run at the plate in Game 3 — but certainly has its big share of ill-timed individual slumps and a .243 on-base percentage in the three games. But this is not a fatal condition, either.

The Dodgers have lost two games they could have won. People are anxious. It was for this very plausible moment that I wrote this paragraph Monday.

There will be moments where things go wrong, maybe too many of them at once, and the reflex will be to assume that your team screwed up — made the wrong decision, swung at the wrong pitch. Sometimes, yeah, it will be on us — who among us hasn’t scolded a child (or a parent) for their numbskull transgressions? One piece of advice: It will help you to remember that the other team is fantastic, genuinely fantastic, earning every bit of its place in this World Series, more likely than not wreaking the havoc, rather than rolling head-first past it.

In the eighth inning of Game 2, things could hardly have looked more dire for Houston. Baseball has a way of flipping the table.

Oct 23

Hello, World Series … goodbye, Earth

Mikey Williams/Los Angeles Dodgers

Mikey Williams/Los Angeles Dodgers

The past 100 hours since the Dodgers captured the pennant, the verifiable, officially viable National League pennant, those have been the air-conditioned portion of their fanbase’s trip to the World Series.

Feel the breeze. Luxuriate in the cool, refreshing praise from around the baseball world. Revel in the stories telling you how great you are. (Technically, it’s “how great the team you root for is,” but really, what’s the difference?) It’s climate-controlled, baby.

But come 5:09 p.m. Tuesday, we’ll open the sliding door and step right into the heat — the literal heat, yes, but even more scorching, the metaphorical heat. This week’s 100-degree temperatures are unseemly for fall, even in Los Angeles, but they’re entirely appropriate. We will be sweating this one out long after the Tuesday sun sets.

This is what we asked for. For 29 years, we begged, we pleaded for this return to this heavenly ballfield, heated by hell’s furnace.

Sitting on the edge of our seat? No, we’re just sitting on the edge — living on it, nothing to lean back on, no cushion, no backrest. Thrust into orbit and hoping, praying we don’t incinerate upon reentry. We’re on top of the world, ma, with a long way to fall.

You dreamed about this for so long. Now experience weightlessness and terror all at once.

Your team needs to win four games out of seven. There’s no prescription for how exactly that gets done. You can win those games by staking out an early lead or coming back late. You can drop one at home and win two on the road, or you can sweep at home and come home needing to sweep again. You will need 20 runs if the other team scores 19. You can bask in a single run if you hold the other team to none.

There will be moments where things go wrong, maybe too many of them at once, and the reflex will be to assume that your team screwed up — made the wrong decision, swung at the wrong pitch. Sometimes, yeah, it will be on us — who among us hasn’t scolded a child (or a parent) for their numbskull transgressions? One piece of advice: It will help you to remember that the other team is fantastic, genuinely fantastic, earning every bit of its place in this World Series, more likely than not wreaking the havoc, rather than rolling head-first past it.

I like the Dodgers’ chances. I really do. But we are explorers, on a visionquest unseen in this city in some lifetimes. Maybe, over the course of the coming years, the frightening will become familiar. But for now, there is no preparing for the extreme adventure we are about to undertake, no warding off each trembling, pulsating, head-rattling moment. It’s a sensation we can only hope will prove sensational. We are livin’ now, friends.

Sep 01

NL playoff possibilities a jumble-aya

With the Dodgers sporting what I would call a muscular 11 1/2-game lead in the National League West (and a magic number of 16 with 26 games to play) after their second consecutive 2-1 victory over San Diego, I’m finding it nearly impossible not to speculate about potential postseason matchups.

Even if all three teams from the National League Central make the playoffs as a division champion and the two wild cards, there could be an extra playoff game that might delay Los Angeles, if it goes on to win the division, learning who its first postseason opponent is.

Based on MLB rules changes that came in with the creation of the second wild-card spot in each league, if two teams tie for first place in the NL Central, they would have a playoff game to determine the division champ and first wild card. Presumably, that game would take place Monday, September 30, the day after the regular season ends. (If it’s between Pittsburgh and St. Louis, the Pirates would host that game, based on having won the season series with the Cardinals.)

The loser of that divisional playoff game – or without such a game, the top wild-card finisher, would host the second wild-card team in the one-game showdown on Tuesday, October 1.

The winner of the wild-card game will then travel to the home of the team with the best record in the league for a best-of-five NL Division Series that would probably begin on Thursday, October 3. Unlike last year, the division series will be in a 2-2-1 format.

The NL Division Series between the division champs that don’t have the best record in the league would probably begin on Wednesday, October 2.

The Dodgers currently hold the No. 2 spot in the NL. Though they have closed within two games of Atlanta, they actually need to make up three games to pass them, because head-to-head records will serve as tiebreakers for playoff seeding. Here’s how the Dodgers have fared against their fellow playoff contenders this year:

Arizona: 5-7 with seven games to play
Atlanta: 2-5
Cincinnati: 3-1 with three games to play
Pittsburgh: 4-2
St. Louis: 4-3
Washington: 5-1

If all three contenders in the NL Central finish the regular season tied, with the division champion and two wild-card slots at their disposal, that’s when it gets really interesting. Head-to-head records would be used to determine placement of the three clubs, and then there would be two playoff games.

The loser of the first game would be a wild-card team. The winner of the first game would play the remaining contender from the division in the second game. The winner of the second game would be the division champion, while the loser of the second game would be the other wild card.

For more insight, you can look at last year’s MLB postseason tiebreaker guide.

 

Aug 20

Looking ahead to a wild finish

Giants at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Kershaw CXLII: Kershawleanna
Shane Victorino, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Clayton Kershaw, P

Within the National League standings you’ll find the following four teams separated by only two games:

67-54 Pittsburgh
67-55 Los Angeles
66-55 San Francisco
65-56 St. Louis

What would happen if these four teams finished the regular season tied, with two playoff spots available to them — one for the NL West champion, one for the second NL wild card spot — under the new MLB playoff format for 2012?

Unless I’m mistaken …

1) The Dodgers and Giants would play for the NL West title on October 4.
2 & 3) The loser of that game would be involved in a three-team playoff for the second wild-card spot that would take two days. In theory, this could mean two of the teams (chosen by lottery) play each other Oct. 5, with the winner of that game hosting the third team October 6.
4) The survivor of that two-day set would play the No. 1 NL wild-card finisher October 7.
5) The wild-card champion would then host the NL team with the best record to start their NL Division Series on October 8.

Keep in mind that potentially, these five games against five different opponents could each require overnight travel from a different city. Wild!

* * *

  • Jim Peltz of the Times writes that Hanley Ramirez has been getting lots of off-field support for his transition to Dodger-hood from Manny Mota.
  • Triple-A outfielder Jerry Sands has set the Albuquerque franchise record with a 20-game hitting streak. According to the Dodger press notes, Sands is hitting .440 with two doubles, a triple, nine homers, 33 RBI and 20 runs scored during the streak.

 

Nov 17

Wrapping up a big day with Newk and friends

“As the winner of the first Cy Young Award, I am so very proud of Clayton Kershaw and his outstanding performances that led to his receiving the 2011 Cy Young Award. I am reminded of Sandy Koufax whenever I see Clayton pitch and feel that there is a deep comparison between the two. Clayton has an outstanding work ethic, as did Sandy, which will show itself through Clayton’s baseball career.”

Don Newcombe

  • Cliff Corcoran of SI.com has a well-done piece looking at Clayton Kershaw’s workload and how it could mean he’s in for an early decline – or, conversely, that he’s on a Hall of Fame path. Corcoran concludes by recommending the Dodgers not dally in signing Kershaw to a big contract extension.
  • ESPN.com looks at the adjustments Kershaw made to become a Cy Young winner.

* * *

In case you missed it amid the Cy Young news, baseball has engineered a major realignment. The Houston Astros are moving to the American League West, there will be interleague play throughout the season, and biggest of all, there will be two wild-card teams in each league, who will face off in a one-game playoff. Jayson Stark of ESPN.com examines the changes from all angles, while DodgerTalk co-host Joe Block reacts to the realignment news and potential increase in interleague games by discussing whether NL teams should keep a designated-hitter type on their roster.

* * *

No, Matt Kemp, we haven’t forgotten about you:

  • David Golebiewski of Baseball Analytics has a deep examination of how Kemp is able to maintain a high batting average on balls in play.
  • For a change of pace, here’s Grant Brisbee at Baseball Nation with a history of … Matt Kemp trade rumors!
Nov 01

What the Giants’ ascent tells us about the Dodgers

Giants at Rangers, 4:57 p.m.

A World Series title for the Giants, should it arrive in the next four to 54 hours, will be hateful to many Dodger fans, though others will be above caring. I can’t say I’m looking forward to the potential celebration, though I’ve moved past the cringe phase into acceptance. It really has come to seem like the Giants’ year, and after more than 50 that haven’t been, why shouldn’t it be?

But if I’ve stopped worrying about what this means for me as a Dodger fan, I still am interested in what the Giants have done from a player personnel perspective to get here. And forgive me if I find it instructive.

Every player transaction a front office makes is designed to increase the odds of the team winning on the field. There can be parallel and sometimes competing timetables, short-term vs. long-term, but either way, it’s all about increasing those odds.

San Francisco is poised to win its first World Series title without having a single player earning more than $10 million this year making a meaningful contribution. The team has two eight-digit earners, both of whom are riding the bench. Barry Zito was a serviceable starter this year but didn’t make the postseason roster, while Aaron Rowand had a .659 OPS in 357 regular-season plate appearances and has one at-bat so far in the Fall Classic.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that high-salaried players can’t be valuable. Furthermore, the Giants aren’t exactly a low-budget team; their payroll trumps that of their World Series opponents from Texas, who had to overcome their own share of ownership strife to make it this far. But it does reinforce in my mind that the notion in recent years that the Dodgers had to get superstar X or superstar Y to win led to a phony hysteria.

If the Giants win the World Series, the principal reason will have been a homegrown foursome of starting pitchers, including three first-round picks in a six-year period, that coalesced in utterly timely fashion with a largely no-name bullpen and arguably the best rookie catcher from the National League West since Mike Piazza. (Quiz question: Do you know the names of the top Giants scouting executives?)

Putting aside how close the Dodgers came to glory in 2008 and 2009, the 2010 Giants could have been the 2010 Dodgers. Oh, it most certainly did not play out that way, but it wasn’t long ago that the Dodgers were the safer bet.

Instead, the Dodgers’ tricycle of homegrown first-round draft choices in the starting rotation busted a wheel when Scott Elbert (or, if you prefer, Greg Miller) flat-tired. Russell Martin — at one point the best rookie catcher from the National League West since Mike Piazza — is now a vapor. A nearly iron-clad bullpen in 2009 fell apart this year despite much the same makeup. And that’s before you even begin talking about what might have been with Matt Kemp and friends.

The core of the Giants is under 27 and entered 2010 with zero postseason experience. And yes, Tim Lincecum is a superstar, but Clayton Kershaw outpitched him this year.

As much as we want to blame everything and global warming on the McCourts, they are not all that went wrong with the Dodgers this year. I want the Dodgers to have better owners, but there is so much more that affects a team’s World Series chances than ownership. Much of the Dodgers’ ill fortunes this year is tied up in the tiniest of fibers, threads that might have held together but simply frayed.

You make the best moves you can make — but those moves include the draft as much as free agency and trades, maybe even more so.  You make the best moves you can make, and then you hope those players execute well and have some good fortune to boot. You make the best moves you can make, and then you play the cards. The Giants might be about to hit 21; the Dodgers busted. That’s the way the game goes every 56 years or so.

Oct 28

Giant chips on their shoulders?

I’ve been noticing a number of San Francisco Giants fans online who either a) are looking to rub in their World Series appearance and potential title on Dodger fans or b) seem annoyed that Dodger fans haven’t given the Giants enough credit.

I say this from the most sincere and truthful place that I can: In all the times the Dodgers have been in the playoffs in my lifetime — 1974, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1988, 1995, 1996, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009 — I never once gave a thought to how Giants fans felt about it.

Getting to the playoffs and sometimes winning the World Series wasn’t about sticking it the Giants.  It was about getting to the playoffs and sometimes winning the World Series. When the Dodgers popped the champagne in ’81 and ’88, it wasn’t, “Take that, Giants!”  That wouldn’t have even occurred to me. It was, “We are the champions, my friend.”

San Francisco, you deserve congratulations for your great season. But at this point, it has nothing to do with the Dodgers. Most of you probably realize this, but if you’re a Giants fan thinking about Dodger fans this week, I promise you, your attention is in the wrong place.

Rangers at Giants, 4:57 p.m.

Oct 21

Giants steamrolling through NLCS: Try not to think about it

I’m not someone who lives and breathes the Dodger-Giant rivalry — I’m always more interested in the Dodgers winning than who they’re beating — but I have to admit, each Giants win this past week has been making me cringe.

That being said, it’s not all because of the rivalry, but the second whammy of how close the Dodgers came to winning the National League pennant themselves the previous two seasons.

I’m definitely rooting for the Rangers right now.

Oct 03

Ex-Dodgers in the 2010 playoffs

These former Dodgers spent time on the eight teams in the 2010 major league baseball playoffs. Not all, of course, will be on the postseason rosters or are even still with the organization.  Still, you know darn well the eight finalists couldn’t have done it without:

Atlanta Braves
David Ross (.871 OPS in 145 plate appearances)
Derek Lowe (4.00 ERA in 193 2/3 innings pitched)
Scott Proctor (6.35 ERA in 5 2/3 IP)
Takashi Saito (2.83 ERA in 54 IP)

Cincinnati Reds
None

Philadelphia Phillies
Wilson Valdez (.667 OPS in 363 PA)
Jayson Werth (.921 OPS in 652 PA)
Danys Baez (5.48 ERA in 47 2/3 IP)

San Francisco Giants
Cody Ross (.819 OPS in 82 PA)
Guillermo Mota (4.33 ERA in 54 IP)

Minnesota Twins
Orlando Hudson (.710 OPS in 559 PA)
Jason Repko (.671 OPS in 146 PA)
Jim Thome (1.039 OPS in 340 PA)

New York Yankees
Chad Moeller (.695 OPS in 15 PA)
Chan Ho Park (5.60 ERA in 35 1/3 IP)

Tampa Bay Rays
Willy Aybar (.654 OPS in 309 PA)
Dioner Navarro (.528 OPS in 142 PA)

Texas Rangers

Alex Cora (.571 OPS in seven PA)

Jun 15

Dodgers in the thick of a real pennant race

As this day breaks, the Dodgers find themselves one of three National League West teams within a half-game of the best record in the NL, all of them on pace to win at least 92 games. And Colorado, potentially the best of them all, lurks only three games behind the Dodgers.

That’s quite a pennant race to look forward to. Arguably, the best team in the NL might not be as good on paper as the third- or even fourth-best team in the American League East. But with the fourth-best team in the NBA Eastern Conference putting the hopes of our favored hometown Lakers squad in jeopardy, this seems the wrong week to be dismissive.

Apr 18

Lakers, Dodgers and the meaning of a poor regular-season finish


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Phil Jackson and Joe Torre have dealt with doubt from outside and within.

What do the 2009 Dodgers and 2009-10 Lakers have in common? Both teams won their divisions and had the top record in their league/conference, but entered the playoffs having lost six of their final nine games.

Last year, there was much anxiety and a fair amount of hopelessness when the Dodgers hit the postseason with such a shaky final stretch. With the Lakers beginning the defense of the NBA title today, I asked current Laker blogger and former Dodger blogger Brian Kamenetzky of ESPNLosAngeles.com and KSPN 710 AM to compare and contrast the two teams.

It’s an interesting question, because looking back the Dodgers certainly didn’t close well. I remember the sense of doom in the air as it looked like they might somehow blow the NL West title to Colorado. Of course, they were already in the playoffs anyway, so it may not have mattered much, other than to give us media types something to talk about (and set up the Dodgers to see Philly a round earlier, costing guys in the locker room a better playoff share).

So what happened to the Lakers is similar, in the sense neither team went/will go into the postseason playing its best base/basketball. (There’s a movie in there somewhere). The difference, though, is expectations. The Lakers spent all season as the, if not prohibitive favorite to win a title, not far off, whereas the Dodgers weren’t perceived as the best Major League Baseball had to offer. A nice team, but World Series caliber?

There was similarity in the angst, but I wonder if the different feel despite similar situations reflects some of the more ingrained attitudes fans have towards the teams. Right now, people expect the Dodgers to come up short. They’re not pulling for it, but because it’s been over 20 years now since the last title, the faithful have less faith. The dark cloud forever hanging over this ownership (before the divorce, even) doesn’t help. Neither did the corporate feel of the Fox years.

The Lakers, meanwhile, are expected to succeed. Recent history gives people the strong belief they’ll be rewarded for their emotional investment. That’s the key difference, as far as I see it.

I also have to think that motivation was more of an issue for the Lakers, since winning a division title is such a non-event for them, relatively speaking. After Cleveland put the league’s best record out of reach – an event that only potentially impacts the Lakers in the seventh game of a seven-game championship series – the final week of their season became as much about getting healthy as anything else.

Certainly, poor regular-season finishes indicate at a minimum that a team is vulnerable, but is there a hangover effect? The Dodgers certainly put that theory to rest when they swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series (keeping in mind that the Cards themselves lost eight of their final 10 regular season games). And when you consider that the Dodgers were one out away from being even with the Phillies after four games in the NL Championship Series, it’s hard for me to see a convincing argument that the late-season losing made a difference – not to mention the fact that an on-fire finish to the regular season could leave a team open to accusations of being over-confident.

As recently as the second round of the 2009 NBA playoffs, when the Houston Rockets won the first, fourth and sixth games of their series with the Lakers, fans and the media were openly questioning the Lakers’ heart and ability to advance. Those doubts became a pretty distant memory within the next month, when the Lakers took out Orlando in five games to win the NBA title.

It really feels to me that the playoffs truly are a new season – and definitely not an easy one. I expect the Lakers to come out fully motivated. That doesn’t mean they might not fall short of repeating as champions, but if they do, it will be because of how well the other team played, not how poorly the Lakers did. As a footnote: Was the Kings’ thrilling overtime victory Saturday over Vancouver in Game 2 of their NHL first-round series a failure on the Canucks’ part, or more a triumph on the Kings’ part?

But I’ll give Kamenetzky the last word:

It started with … needing more motivation, but with about three or four weeks left in the regular season, I really felt the team was trying. It wasn’t an issue of complacency, they just weren’t playing well.

To me, their struggles are a sign of weakness. The alchemy going into playing the way they want to offensively is heavily influenced by continuity, and they’ve had none of it this season, thanks to their injury issues. Moreover, the Lakers have serious deficiencies shooting the ball from the outside, especially once Ron Artest fell off a cliff, accuracy wise. The Threepeat teams at the start of the decade weren’t good three-point shooting teams, either, but they compensated by using Shaq and a younger, more aggressive Kobe to live at the line. This Lakers team doesn’t do either, which historically is a bad recipe for success.

I think they’ll get through the early rounds of the playoffs, in part because most of the teams they’ll face have issues of their own (primarily health), but I don’t think it’s a matter of finally having something to play for. They’re still very good (or potentially very good, at least) and could win a title, but I wouldn’t use my money to lay a bet on it in Vegas.